My inside is spinning.
I’m not stupid. Heaven knows that. In fact I’ve been hearing that I’m clever all my life. The only twist in this is that it’s always been followed by a ‘but’ or an ‘if only’. My teachers at school told my parents that I was a smart boy but that I lacked judgment, or application. My professors said I was smart, but not too ambitious. Even my mother said ‘smart, but smart-arse’. And Dad said he knew I had a really good brain, if only I’d use it more smartly.
I know I’m clever enough to do just enough. Just enough to get through University of the Philippines. Just enough to attain mastery at Mathematics in Ateneo. Just enough to be what I am now.
You might question why I sound as though complaining, and my answer might go along the lines of, because I know what my teachers, professor, parents, or anyone else, meant by their ‘but’ or ‘if only’. I could be better. I mean, I could get out of the country. Have a lovely wife trailing behind me. Or, drive to my white mansion at Southplains.
The thing is, I’m lazy to think about anything else. Marinella is right. I’m close-minded. Always settling for enough, for no commitments, so that I won’t be bothered. But this has gotten me nowhere else. I never did anything outside the box.
And being with Marinella is not just being outside the box.
More like, there is even no box.
Obviously, I’ve been babbling all of this in my head to convince myself that whatever the heck I’m doing is not wrong.
Damn, I feel so guilty.
She sneaks a peek at me along the line of the cinemas in Glorietta 4. And I just smirk. I marvel to how fast she has chosen her shirt, when we went to Landmark. It’s almost like she knew what she’d like. She didn’t try it on, she didn’t have any second choice—she just knew that that gray shirt is what she’d be buying. When she wore it, it looked… great. We wasted no more than five minutes shopping. I’m not exaggerating. Believe me.
All this time, as we roam around Makati, I’ve been keeping my distance. I know she finds it weird and she understands. What’s not to understand? This is really weird.
But as we’ve compromised, we will act like this is normal. So I walk to her and check what tickets she’s buying.
“Alex Cross. Anong meron sa Alex Cross?” I ask her, looking at her hand.
She shrugs. “Bakit, ano bang gusto mo?”
“Wala. I don’t know.”
“Hindi ko rin alam kung anong meron ditto. I’m just wondering.”
And then I realize something. “Oh, geez! Did you pay for that?”
She nods slowly. “Yes…?”
I shouldn’t have let her do that. “I’m so sorry. I’m supposed to pay, you know?” I start pulling my wallet and asks, “How much does it cost again?”
“Are you kidding me?” She’s rolling her eyes, then starts laughing. “Please, no. It’s fine with me. No big deal.”
“Di ba nagde-date tayo? The man is supposed to treat his lady.”
She smiles sweetly. “Wow, thanks. It’s the thought that counts.”
I’m not buying it.
“Tara na?” She takes my shoulder. It’s like velvet over steel.
I just stand on my place. “I’m sorry but we’re not going to watch unless it’s I who bought tickets.”
“Ang arte mo, Sir Lopez.”
“I mean, Brian.”
It has honestly made me smile. “Sige na. I’m sorry. Wala lang kasi ako sa sarili nung bumibili ka ng tickets.”
“Ok. If you mind that much.” She keeps the tickets in her bag, and crosses her arms, waiting for me to do something. I start walking and then fall in the queue. As I finish, I didn’t want to ask her if she wants some popcorn or not. I’m going to buy her, regardless. And it’s going to be plain salted.
“How do you know?”
“How do I know what?”
She just smiles like a fool and shakes her head. “Wala.”
I bought two bags, I hand her the other. And then she looks at me.
I get what she means.
“Ate, can you put these two bags in one bucket?”
“Yes.” She side-comments, agreeing.
“And, one extra-large Pepsi.” I say again, as I made the mistake of buying two regular sodas. This will be over, don’t worry.
The woman smiles at Marinella, and then to me. And then to both of us. After a few while, she hands me the snacks and wishes me a good day.
“Weird.” I whisper to myself.
“Anong weird? Iniisip niya malamang, ang cute natin.” Marinella says. “Which is true.”
“No. Iniisip niya na I’m such a pedophile son of a bitch.” I state a matter-of-factly.
She laughs. “Just like Maverick?”
I haven’t thought of that. Whoa, I’m becoming Maverick. “Hell, no. Please, no.”
“Ang bait, bait ni Maverick eh.”
I shrug. I don’t know why I don’t like him so much.
Checking the time on my phone, I realize that we’re just in time for the beginning. I let her lead the way along the walkthrough and choose the seat. Of course I’d be that gentleman. She takes the theater stairs and to the back seat. I tilt my head questioningly.
“Never mind. This won’t ever happen again.” I assure myself.
“Shhh.” She hushes me.
When she settles herself on seat, I follow and then give her the popcorn. She starts munching on it right away. All so bubbly.
“Gusto mo ng plain salted?”
She nods, not entirely answering since her mouth is full. Oh God. She’s so beautiful even in the dim light.
She offers me the bucket. “Meant to be tayo.”
I take some. “Magtigil ka.”
She chuckles, teasing. “Ang sarap kaya.”
“Yung iba ayaw kasi daw maalat lang.”
She narrows her eyes naughtily.
“Um, I’m pertaining to the popcorn, obviously.”
“It’s not that salty.” She protests. “It tastes so gourmet-ish. And sometimes, healthy.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Thanks for agreeing to this.” I heard her say.
“Oh, why, you’re welcome.” I say sarcastically, suddenly bouncing back to life. “Bakit ang lakas ng loob mo?”
“Wala naman kasing mangyayari kung wala akong gagawin.”
“So basically, nanliligaw ka sa’kin.” I conclude.
“O sige. If the thought’s not emasculating on your side, then be it.”
Ever so witty, Marinella. Nice try. “Why me? I thought you just liked me because… because you’re a student.”
“What? You don’t make sense.”
“I mean, at first glance you look like trying to get emotions involved.”
“Now, isn’t that just offensive.” She says. “I don’t need pulling strings. I can handle myself. I’m doing well. Liking you is another story.”
It makes me cringe.
“I made it a point to be enrolled in your class, just so you know.”
“Isn’t stalking illegal?” I ask, smiling.
“I’m just following dreams.” She shrugs. And then, as if on cue, the lights turn off and the movie starts, making me more or less unable to respond.
I’m unable to focus at all. I just listen at the way my heart beat harder.
After that day and after playing the role of a perfect gentleman, I let her go and she kept her promise that she would never bother me again. It’s been three months now and I almost have forgotten her.